Sophie B. Hawkins: Live
A Review

25 April 2006
by Mandy J Watson
South AfricaCape Town, South Africa

Sophie B. Hawkins: LiveFor the hardcore fans of Sophie B. Hawkins, it is an absolute treat every time she releases a new album. Her four studio albums - Tongues And Tails (1992), Whaler (1994), Timbre (1999), and Wilderness (2004) - have each presented a new aspect of her life experiences and new musical styles to her fans, and have each chronicled the particular time in her life during which the songs from the album were composed.

After over a decade, this is her first live-album release, and it's an absolute must-have for fans, especially those that have not had the privilege of being able to watch her perform in person. With every live performance she tends to reinvent, remix, reword, and rework her music, with a lot of impromptu moments thrown into the mix, and her way of interacting with the audience and making them feel part of the performance is something that many performers could learn a lot from.

Most of this album is the stereo board mix (hence the working title: "The Bad Kitty Board Mix") from a show Sophie performed at The Triple Door in Seattle, USA, on 13 August 2005, but it also features a few tracks that were recorded at The Basement in Sydney, Australia, during Sophie's 2005 tour. For an album that is "just" a board mix, the quality is impressively high in most places, and we have the added bonus of mistakes, audience interactions, and impromptu moments, which really infuse soul and character into the album. In fact, there is so much going on in this album that years from now you will still be hearing things that you hadn't previously noticed. I've listened to it countless times in order to write this review and I still catch comments I haven't heard before that make me giggle.

The first time that you play through the album you need to set aside a couple of hours of uninterrupted alone time. You cannot do something else while you are listening to it as you will miss all the best moments. Much of the delightfulness is in the subtleties that flip by so quickly they can be hard to catch if you are not concentrating.

The approximately two hours of music do take their toll, however. By the end of the second disc, as a listener, you are likely to be exhausted, so I can't imagine how Sophie and the band members manage to keep up such a pace, all the while on tour, in a new city almost every night.

Disc 1 kicks off the album beautifully with a percussive, rhythmic, catchy, fast-paced version of "Mysteries We Understand", from Tongues And Tails, a song that I did not realise Sophie performs live. The song immediately gets you into the mood for the rest of the album. You can even hear her banging away on the djembe at one point. The disc then rolls into an almost album-accurate rendition of California Here I Come, a highly underrated piece from Tongues And Tails.

Up next is "Before I Walk On Fire", which is my favourite Sophie B. Hawkins song (hence, as you can imagine, I am a little biased in my feelings towards it). While not my favourite version of this song, partly because of the rather heavy electronic strings in the middle, drummer Rock Deadrick's backing vocals are impassioned and Sophie's improvised lyrical crescendo heading towards the end of the track is absolutely fabulous, drawing the first frenetic response from the audience, a reaction to which Sophie philosophically comments on after finishing the song.

The fourth track is a faster, more upbeat version of "Saviour Childe", a seemingly renamed version of Tongues And Tails' "Saviour Child", which features a toe-tapping (or head-banging, if you prefer) piano solo by Darius Holbert in the middle.

"As I Lay Me Down" remained on Billboard's charts for a record-breaking 67 weeks, back in the mid '90s, and it instantly draws a reaction of recognition from the audience the minute the first few notes are played. It features beautiful, subdued percussion work by Rock Deadrick on the cymbals and tender vocals by Sophie, but is hampered a bit by Gigi Gaston's hesitant backing vocals. The ending diverges to a completely different, soulful musical number with elements of jazz and blues that moves the house audience. This is the first of a number of expansive improvisations on the album, and one of the best.

At this point on the disc Sophie takes one of a few moments that are to be found throughout the album to talk to the audience as, I think, she is moving around the stage trying to get ready for a song she intends to perform later on. It features a couple of my favourite moments on the album, including jokes about the banjo on stage. The banjo has been both a blessing and curse to Sophie, as her decision to use it on the Timbre track "Lose Your Way" resulted in a fight with her record company at the time, Sony/Columbia, regarding artistic integrity, as Sony thought that the banjo would alienate listeners and lessen the song's chances for success. It was at this point that the worldwide fan community, with the help of the Internet, rallied together in support of her choice, and the end result of the long, nasty battle with Sony was that Sophie was eventually released from her contract and went on to become a self-sufficient independent artist.

Back to the album: at this point the transition to Sydney, for "Did We Not Choose Each Other", is seamless. You have no inclination that this is a different audience, on another continent, although if you have the ear for it you can hear a difference in the quality of the board mix. The album version of this track (from the album Whaler) features stunning production, and it was interesting to hear a live rendition of the song, which, in this case, is snappy and has Sophie inviting audience participation.

We are then treated to a second song from the Sydney show, "Walking On Thin Ice", from Sophie's latest album, Wilderness. This rendition is closer in emotional intensity to the celebratory energy of the remix version of this track (which happens to be the version I prefer), that can only be found on a rare promo CD, than the album version, which is more sombre and reflective in tone.

The album then heads back to Seattle for "Sweetsexywoman", another track from Wilderness. This is apparently always a crowd favourite especially, as one can imagine, among lesbian-heavy audiences. It is performed as a favour for an audience member celebrating a birthday and has a jazzy, 70s-lounge-music feel to it, and features another long jazz-blues kind of impromptu diversion about halfway through. Towards the end Rock Deadrick joins in with outstanding backing vocals that add amazing depth to the song.

Sophie takes another moment to talk utter (amusing) rubbish to the audience before picking up the banjo for "Lose Your Way" to perform a more romantic rendition of the song that is better and richer than the album version. Towards the end she retains the musical essence of the song but goes off on another lyrical tangent that bears no relation to the original song but magically retains the romantic feeling of the original.

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brainwavez.org Opinion
Rating: 9/10
Key Facts (Review Copy)
Artist: Sophie B. Hawkins
Title: Live (Audio CD)
Label: Trumpet Swan Records
Release Date: 6 March 2006
Genre: Pop, Adult Contemporary

Track Listing:
Disc 1
1. Mysteries We Understand - 03:49
2. California Here I Come - 05:24
3. Before I Walk On Fire - 05:32
4. Saviour Childe - 04:59
5. As I Lay Me Down - 06:25
6. Did We Not Choose Each Other (Sydney) - 04:23
7. Walking On Thin Ice (Sidney) - 04:22
8. Sweetsexywoman - 12:27
9. Lose Your Way - 05:10

Disc 2
1. No Connection - 04:30
2. Bare The Weight Of Me - 06:12
3. Mr Tugboat Hello - 02:56
4. Beautiful Girl - 03:30
5. Feeling Good - 09:47
6. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover - 07:51
7. I Want You - 09:41
Bonus: As I Lay Me Down (Sydney) - 05:02
Bonus: Feeling Good (Sydney) - 09:20

Extras:
  • Audio monologue
  • Interative tour diary

Album Credits:
Seattle:
  • Drums: Rock Deadrick
  • Keyboards, including left-handed bass: Darius Holbert
  • Piano, guitar, banjo, djembe: Sophie B. Hawkins
  • Background vocals: Gigi Gaston, Rock Deadrick, Darius Holbert
  • Sound engineer: Craig Montgomery
Sydney:
  • Drums: Dave Folley
  • Keyboards, including left-handed bass: Ed Roth
  • Piano: Sophie B. Hawkins
  • Background vocals: Gigi Gaston
  • Sound engineer: Peter Pagac
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